I find the social science of the brain to be a very interesting topics, which means I read a lot of books about it. It is a fairly new science, and scientists admit that there is still a lot to learn, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take what is known and apply it to the way we work.
Work, by its definition, involves other people. So, the more you know about how other people think, the more you can tailor your work in a manner that will be more likely to be positively accepted by the people you work with.
Our social connections are necessary for our survival – not just at work, but in life. If you think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the lowest level is the physiological stuff, and then comes safety, and next is social. Without social connections, you can’t move up into the hierarch where you get into esteem and self-actualization.
Default Mode Network
And the science supports this idea. There is a region in our brain called the Default Mode Network. This are of the brain becomes active whenever you think about people and your relationship to them. Science shows that 2 day old babies have this Default Mode Network. They don’t have social networks yet, but their brain is already wired for them.
When everything is going well, there is nothing to worry about. But lets be honest – most of us don’t go for very long without running into some kind of social pain. A fight with a spouse. A misunderstanding with a co-worker. Feeling like someone else is getting credit for something we did. Somehow, we don’t always give this the same amount of weight we give physical pain. But, the science proves otherwise. Your brain doesn’t distinguish between physical pain and social pain.
When you have a stomach ache or a headache, you attribute them to a specific part of your body. But, we know from hundreds (or more) of examples that placebos can treat these physical ailments which means that the stomach ache was really in your brain, not your stomach. So, just because social pain doesn’t have a physical spot on your body that you can point to, doesn’t mean it isn’t as real to your brain.
So, keep this in mind the next time you get into a tussle with someone. For both of you, the pain felt is as real as if you had stubbed your toe. Give yourself the grace and space to deal with the pain. Give the other person the same.
Your Brain Determines Your Tolerance For Pain
Science also shows that there is a genetic reason that some people seem to be able to deal with pain better than others. We all have a mu-opioid receptor that determines how we feel and handle pain. Depending on which receptor you get, you will be more or less sensitive to pain. Its funny because I think humans have known this for a long time even though we’ve just recently gotten the science to prove it.
Have you ever heard someone say “I’ve got a high tolerance for pain?” While someone else may say “I’ve got a low tolerance for pain?”
I’d bet if we tested those two people, we’d find that they have different mu-opioid receptors. I think they key takeaway here is that if someone else has a lower or higher tolerance for pain – which includes social pain – you should remember that it is genetic. No different than the color of their eyes. Rather than spending time judging them, recognize the difference and understand that we are all genetically driven when it comes to tolerating pain.
Theory of the Mind
Another area that brain science has made strides in recently is the development of a concept called Theory of the Mind. Theory of the Mind is this thing that happens when we realize that other people have their own thoughts that drive their behavior. We can understand that what another person believes is driven by their own experiences and beliefs. So, for example, when you are in a small store and you walk up to the counter to pay, you understand in your mind that the store employee will interpret you standing there to mean you are ready to check out so they will stop stalking the shelf and come over to ring you up. Neither of you had to tell the other what you were thinking. Your Theory of Mind allowed you both to draw conclusion s about what each other would conclude.
The interesting thing is that we aren’t born with this ability. Scientists have conducted a study to prove this. Sally and Anne are in a room with a basket and a box. A 3 year old is observing. Sally puts a marble in the basket and walks out of the room. Anne moves the marble to the box, and then Sally returns to the room. Where will Sally look for the marble. You and I would say she will look in the basket since that is where she left it and wouldn’t know that Ann had moved it. That is Theory of Mind at work. You and I can separate what Sally is thinking and how she is likely to behave from what we know to be true. But, when scientists asked the 3 year old, they say she will look in the box. Since they know it is in the box, they can’t separate the action they would take from the action Sally will take based on her experience.
It is fascinating to think about how much of our social interaction each day is driven by Theory of Mind. Start observing when you are using Theory of Mind to recognize when another person’s behavior is being driven by beliefs that differ from your own or that don’t line up with your reality.
And, lastly, closely aligned with this is the idea of mirror neurons. This is some of the newest science and is still really being disputed in the scientific community. But, what current studies are showing is that we all have an area of the brain called the mirror neurons. When you pick p a peanut, this area lights up. The interesting part is tha t if you see someone else lean over and pick up a peanut, the same are of the brain lights up. Scientists think that this is why we might wince when we see someone else stub their toe.
Theory of the Mind allows us to imagine what the other person’s reaction will be and our mirror neurons mimic that reaction. This whole process allows us to better understand the experience – something like empathy – which results in a better social connection between us and the other person.
So, you might be saying – this is great scientific information about the brain, but this is a business skills podcast – what does brain science have to do with business skills?
Well, there is a lot of scientific evidence that our brains work to ensure our social interactions with others. And, of course, a large percentage of our social interactions with others occurs at work. Your success in your career is going to be somewhat dependent on how well you can execute these social interactions. If you are a developer, your career success will be heavily dependent on your ability to code software. If you are a marketer, your success is heavily dependent on your ability to get leads in the door. But, if you are good at those career-specific skills, but not good at getting along with your coworkers or clients, then you ultimately won’t be as successful as you could be. We need to be able to execute our unique job-related skills within the bigger context of social interactions. Business is wholly dependent on social interactions.
So, understanding how our brain works in these social interactions is important. How we use this knowledge at work can help us build deeper relationships with our coworkers. It can help us influence others and understand why a coworker might behave the way they do.
And, anytime you can improve your interactions with others, you will be more successful in your career.
If you want to learn more about these topics, I recommend the book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect by Matthew Lieberman.
If you aren’t clear on you priorities, it will have an impact on almost every other aspect of your life. We commonly refer to work – life balance when we are talking about priorities. But, it isn’t just about what you do at work and what you do in your personal life. Your priorities have an impact to many different aspects of your life. Its all inter-twined.
If you just think about your work, you can think about how productive you are during any given week. Are you as successful as you could be or as you want to be? How can you be more productive or successful in the - air quotes – 40 hours you spend at work each week?
Now, expand beyond work and consider your family life. I will include friends really – you social life, which includes family. How fulfilled are you in your personal life? Are you accomplishing what you want in this area? Do you feel like you are giving it the attention it needs?
Lets expand again. Now, what about your community life? When you think about everything you want to accomplish outside of work and our social circle, do you feel like you have a handle on it? Are you happy with the contribution you are making?
And finally, let me expand one more time. What about you personally? For yourself? What are your goals? Do you have hobbies? Is there a hobby you want to pursue that you haven’t?
It’s a lot to keep track of.
What do you want to accomplish at work, at home, in your community, and for yourself? How on earth do you balance it all?
How do you ensure that each and every week you are taking actions that align with these goals?
How do you balance your personal set of goals with other important people in your life?
You really can’t set your priorities without taking your bosses priorities into consideration. If you are in a relationship, you can’t set your priorities without taking your partner’s priorities into account. It can get overwhelming very quickly. That is exactly why so many people just ignore their priorities and let their life unfold the way it unfolds.
When you let life unfold, it has a tendency to be driven by the urgent things – regardless of how important they are.
North Star List
There is a tool that I use to help me keep track of it all. It helps me keep an eye on my priorities so that I can feel confident that I’m always acting in accordance with my priorities. I call it the North Star List, and although I’ve talked about it a lot on this podcast, today we are going to deep dive into it. My goals is that you leave this week with a North Star List of your own.
The way I describe the North Star List is that it is the job description for your life. Just like a job description outlines what you should be spending your time on at work, your North Star List outlines what you should be spending your time on in life.
As you think about the different areas of your life – work, social circle, community, and yourself, you are going to write out a description of what you want it to be for you. Don’t feel like you have to cover every scenario. Your North Star List is going to change over time because – well – your priorities change over time. Let’s just take work as an example.
When you first start working, you may have a priority to find a good solid job that has good potential for growth. Or maybe that has good potential to learn a specific skill you want to pursue. Then, over time you may decide that what you really want out of work is a certain title or a promotion and climbing the ladder is your top priority. And, if you are like me and you’ve been working for nearly 30 years, your priority ay move from climbing the ladder to just maintaining a paycheck because your priority is shifting from career to retirement.
Obviously, the same is true for your social circle. When you are young, your priority is likely a circle of friends. As you get older and start a family, it is likely your immediate family – your spouse and children. And, as you get older and your kids move out, it is likely going to shift back to friends.
So, as you can see, the priorities in each are of you life are going to shift over time. There will be times when your work/life balance is completely focused on work, and times when it is completely focused on life, and everything in between.
What the North Star List does is it helps you think about your priorities and ensure you are acting in alignment with them at all times.
So, let’s put together your North Star List. When you think about your life, what is your job description?
Start with your work. If you were writing a job description for the role work plays in your life, what would it be? Is it the central responsibility you have? Is it an important part of your job, but not the most important thing? Or is it one of those nice-to-have things that they always put in the last section of a job description? How would you describe the role your work has in your life?
My current North Star List has work listed as “provide for my family through a job that pays enough to provide the lifestyle we desire.” What does that tell you about my priorities? There is nothing in that statement about doing something I love or enjoy. There is nothing in that statement about a certain title or achieving anything other than – honestly – a paycheck. This is because I’m at the stage in my career where I’ve done everything I want to do and my job is no longer a focus for me. Don’t get me wrong – I still have to work and I still want to enjoy what I do, but as far as my priorities go – it doesn’t go beyond the paycheck. Practically speaking, what does it mean? It means that as I make my way through my week and I have to make decisions about my limited time, I let this priority drive those decisions. I don’t put a lot of overtime in because my priority isn’t to climb the ladder. I used to make decisions based on what might be good for my career. Now, I don’t because it is no longer such a priority. It is a subtle difference, but is so helpful in providing direction when I’m faced with decisions.
Ok, so lets turn to your social life. This includes family and friends. The next line in your job description should describe what you want this area of your life to look like. Knowing that you have to balance work with your social life. What is the priority for you when it comes to family and friends?
For example, my North Star List says “support my family by being present as a wife, daughter, sister, and friend.” That means I show up in meaningful ways for those people I love. Since I don’t have kids, there is no need to talk about the kind of parent I want to be. Your focus may be a lot more narrow if you are in a new relationship or have young children.
Next, think about the wider community. What role do you want to play in your community?
It may be that your answer is none. And, that’s ok. Again, over time, our focus changes. If you are young and have a new family and new career, you may not have any time for the wider community. There was a time when I very consciously called out my community involvement was limited to supporting organizations or causes I cared about financially because I could easily write a check, but giving my time was a much bigger challenge.
You can see how having this outlined in my North Star List made decisions easy. When I was asked to volunteer for something – having the North Star List to refer back to made it easy for me to say no because it wasn’t one of my priorities.
My current North Star List says “support my community by using my strengths too benefit organizations that serve missions that I believe in.”
Finally, it is important that you don’t forget about yourself. In your life’s job description, what is your current priority for yourself?
How do you take care of yourself? What is the top priority for yourself?
It may be tempting for you to say something about your work or family. Don’t. You’ve covered those already. It may feel selfish at first, but just do it anyway. If you don’t put yourself on your priority list, I can guarantee you won’t give yourself permission to do whatever it is that is important to you. And, that will lead to burnout.
For me, it is my podcasts. What will it be for you?
I’ll admit up-front that today’s topic is one of my pet peeves, so if I sound a little more preachy than normal, you’ll know why.
Today, we are going to talk about identifying busy work so you can get onto being productive. I guess I’m making the argument that being busy – fake busy – is standing in the way of being productive.
“When it comes to your effectiveness, fake work is often more dangerous than no work at all.” From The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry
I see it every day – people keeping themselves so busy with unimportant tasks that aren’t moving the needle for them. They get to the end of their day and they are exhausted, but they aren’t really making the impact that they want or need to make.
It really frustrates me to no end to see this happening. It is an easy trap to fall into because we, many times, are thinking very short term and feel like we need to do what we need to do just to keep our head above water in our day job.
What I want to do today is give you a framework for thinking about the work you are accomplishing and to help you move away from busy work and toward being more productive. It means working in a mode for most of your day that contributes to your priorities.
It is called the Productivity Mode Optimizer – and yes, that is PMO hidden in the title. Pretty cleaver, huh?
The Productivity Mode Optimizer is a pie chart that gives you a visual of how much of your time is being spent on activities that move the needle forward.
So, picture a pie chart that is divided into 3 slices:
This is the time you spend working on tasks beyond the point you should have. I don’t really mean that they were done too late. I mean that, you are doing the task and it is taking more time than it should because you are reacting to it rather than managing it. You are swimming as hard as you can to keep your head above water but you aren’t moving the needle forward.
When you are working in reactive mode, you are doing busy work that is unnecessary because you haven’t appropriately managed the situation. Reactive mode is diabolical – it keeps you busy so that you don’t think you have the time you need to do anything about it.
Although I think it is obvious, I guess I’d better say it out loud – you want the reactive mode section of your pie chart to be as small as possible.
This is when you are working on tasks before they are needed. This is where you move the needle forward. This is productivity personified. Of course, it isn’t easy to work in productive mode, or else we would all feel like we are very productive.
When you are working in productive mode, you are looking at a long term timeframe.
You are getting to the root cause of issues and addressing them.
You are thinking about how to solve problems rather than just reacting to them.
For me, Productivity Mode means I’m not in meeting or looking at emails. It means I’ve got some dedicated quiet time to work on solving a problem. Sometimes that means I’m standing in front of a whiteboard trying to work through the problem. Sometimes that means I am 10 feet deep into a complicated spreadsheet. And, sometimes it means I’m staring out a winding just thinking.
The hardest part about Proactive Mode is that it can easily get pushed aside by Reactive Mode. So, I want to emphasize that Proactive Mode has to be deliberate. You have to make time to be working in Proactive Mode.
You’ve got to remind yourself that the time spent in Proactive Mode is the productive bit. Feeling busy while in Reactive Mode makes you feel like you are getting stuff done, but it isn’t productive.
Busy is not always productive.
This is the time spent on your long term goals. You’ve got to be deliberate about this mode as well. How much time are you giving to your long term goals? What activities in your week are contributing to the long term goals you have set?
This podcast is built on the foundation of this mode. We set aside 10 minutes per week to add to your core business skills so that you can be more successful in your career. So, if you are a regular listener, you can put this 10 minutes into the Foundation Mode section of your pie chart.
But, what else are you doing? you should aim for this to be about 25% of your chart. It is a stretch goal for sure, but you’ve got to aim high to make a difference.
So, you homework for this week is to look back over the last month at what you’ve done and create your own Productivity Mode Optimizer chart.
If you are a subscriber to Scale My Skills, our weekly newsletter, you’ve got a worksheet in your inbox. If not, you can sign up here and get our free guides each week.
Fill in the pie chart to reflect your current division of time between Reactive Mode, Proactive Mode, and Foundation Mode. Are you happy with the allocation? If not, what can you do to move in the direction you want to move?
Navigating the corporate world means you are always negotiating. You may be negotiating with a coworker about a project deadline. Or, with a client about how to resolve an issue. Or, you may be negotiating with your boss about a promotion or a raise. Whether you think about it consciously or not, you are always negotiating. And, because our goal is to help you be successful in your career, we want to spend 10 minutes with you this week teaching you one component of negotiation.
The concept we are going to be covering is called BANTA. It stands for Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement.
Negotiation always involves at least two people, and you are always one of them. Chances are good that you and the other person involved in the negotiation have different priorities.
This doesn’t even have to be dramatic. Its really only natural that 2 people will have different priorities. You both have different interests as well. They don’t necessarily have to be competing interests, but if you are negotiating with someone, you are really, by definition, in a place where you don’t currently have agreement.
Entering the Negotiation
So, as you enter into any negotiation, you should be aware that, at the start of the negotiation, you have a gap to close. There are two parts to closing that gap:
As you think about your personal priorities, you are going to come up with a list of your demands:
You need to be clear on these things so that as you get into the negotiation, you can remain more calm. You will have already thought through the possible outcomes and you aren’t having to think on your feet when the heat is on.
BANTA takes you to the next step
Again, BANTA stands for Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. It is your best course of action for satisfying your interests if you can not reach agreement with the other side.
It is about being clear in your mind about what action you will take in the event the negotiation does not go your way.
The reason BANTA is important is because it is the emergency exit. When you don’t have an emergency exit, you panic.
You make rash decisions.
You may dig in.
Your mind shuts down and you lose your ability to think creatively. And, because you can’t think creatively, you rely on the goals and objectives you had identified as the only possible options.
BANTA is your exit plan. If a negotiation doesn’t result in the outcome you were looking for, you need to know how you’ll exit.
Having BANTA in your toolkit will help you reach a new ability to negotiate because it will help bring clarity to your negotiation.
If you are a Scale My Skills subscriber, we’ve sent you a worksheet to help you plan your negotiation, including your BANTA. If not, you can sign up here.
Everyone in your management chain – and everyone in a leadership position at your company is making decisions based on your company’s financial position every day. So, it is important for you to have some basic understanding about some of the core building blocks of financials. If you understand these, you are better able to understand why your leadership team makes some of the decisions they do. It helps to give you better insight. It helps you better understand the strategy decisions they are making. And, it helps you better anticipate what decisions they might make in the future.
Today we are going to talk about the difference between fixed and variable cost. If you can really understand this concept, you’ll have a better ability to analyze business strategy. So, this is fixed and variable cost 101.
Fixed cost is any cost incurred by your company that doesn’t change based on the business. So, for example, the rent paid for your office is fixed. Whether you make $100 in sales this month, or $1,000000, the rent is the same.
If you are in a manufacturing business that has large equipment – that equipment is a fixed cost. It is likely that there is some sort of monthly payment on the equipment that has to be made regardless of sales.
If you are in the transportation business, you likely have a fleet of trucks that are being paid for each month.
If you are working for a start up, maybe your company has taken out a loan. That loan payment is a fixed expense.
Chances are good that your company has some sort of insurance – whether it is liability insurance, key man insurance, or something specific to your industry. The insurance payment is fixed. It doesn’t change based on the volume of your sales.
The other type of cost is variable. Variable costs fluctuate based on volume. Inventory is a classic variable cost. Whatever business you are in, if it involves inventory, then your company can control costs by controlling inventory. You pay based on the volume you buy. So, if you are in a seasonal business, you would minimize the cost of inventory during the months that are not part of your season and your costs would go way up in the months that were your season.
What if you are in an industry that doesn’t involve inventory? Maybe you work for a software company or an accounting firm. In that case, the largest variable cost is salary expense. The amount of expense is going to increase or decrease based on the number of employees.
Services businesses like software, accounting, real estate, consulting – the largest expense they have is the cost of employees. So, the best way to control costs is to control headcount. In an accounting or consulting business where revenue is linked directly to headcount because you are literally charging by the hour – then the costs that the business incurs automatically goes up or down with the revenue.
For a software business – there isn’t as much of a direct link. You can sell a lot more software licenses without having to add more developers.
But, the fact still remains that salary expense is a variable cost because it increases or decreases based on the number of employees. So, your salary, regardless of what industry you work in, is a variable expense for your company.
Benefits are also variable expenses. Each time they add headcount, they also add expenses related to whatever benefits are offered.
So, you can start to see how understanding fixed versus variable costs is important. The leaders of your company have to make decisions based on the specific situation they are in. As they are making decisions, they have to look at the options based on what is variable and what is fixed. And, these aren’t always easy decisions. If you see your company making some belt tightening decisions, it could be an indicator that cash is tight and they are looking for ways to decrease variable costs in order to be able to ensure they can cover their fixed costs during a lean time.
And, on a side note – all of this applies at home as well. What are your fixed and variable costs at home? You are constantly making decisions based on this and may not even realize you are doing it.
You can learn more about financial acumen with our Financial Acumen Curriculum.
There is one thing that will, without a doubt keep you from being successful in your career. If your coworkers and bosses don’t have trust in you, you will be like Sisyphus, pushing your career up the mountain only to see it slip back down.
Mahatma Gandhi said it very well, “The moment there is suspicion about a person’s motives, everything he does becomes tainted.”
A lack of trust is something you can’t afford in your career. And, the thing is, trust is something other’s get to decide. Do they trust you or not? Of course, it is based on your actions, but the decision to place trust is still theirs.
So, how do you increase your chances of ending up in a place where your coworkers and bosses make a decision to place their trust in you? On this episode, we are going to talk through the different components of trust. By understanding the components, you can determine if there are any levers you can pull that may help you improve your trustworthiness in other’s eyes.
A lot of the basis for this is based on the book “The Speed of Trust – The One Thing that Change Everything” by Stephen MR Covey.
How Do You Define Trust?
First, think about what it is that you consider when you decide to place your trust in others. Think about someone you trust. What makes you trust them? Now, think about someone you don’t trust. What makes you lack trust in them? What would they need to do to build a reputation with you that would lead to you trusting them?
Even the most trustworthy person you can think of can lose your trust in a given situation. It is hard to make an argument that Mother Theresa was untrustworthy.
But, would you trust her to fix your car? No.
Would you trust her to treat your cancer? No.
Trustworthiness is relative because one component of trust is competence. In your career, your level of trustworthiness can not be separated from your competence.
Obviously, you are not going to ever gain competency in all areas. Nobody is. This is why trust is relative. Your goal is to build your competency in your particular area of focus. If you find yourself struggling to gain your bosses trust, you should consider whether or not the lack of trust is driven by a competency issue.
Competency is made up of: capability, results, and your track record. It takes all three to build trust.
Capability is your skill level for a given area. If you are in finance, it is your skill level understanding financial models, data modeling, your ability to manipulate a spreadsheet. If you are in customer service, it is your ability to solve problems, to stay calm under pressure, and to learn your company’s product or service well enough to answer questions from customers. If you are in sales, it is knowing how to read the room, how to build a business case, and how to listen for what your prospective client really needs.
Whatever role you are in – what you need to do is understand the skills that are core for your area and determine how you increase these so that you become known as competent.
By the way, if you are a Scale My Skills subscriber, you’ve got a guide in your inbox that will walk you through this process.
We don’t trust people who don’t give us results. You need to be seen as someone who gets things done.
Keep your promises.
Do what you say you will do.
Under promise and over deliver.
Are you someone who delivers results? More importantly, are you someone others see as delivering results?
We build trust by delivering results consistency over a long period of time. Trust deepens each time you deliver, and you build a track record that becomes a foundation of trust with someone. We will give someone who breaks our trust the benefit of the doubt if they have a track record with us. We see the episode as out of character for them and we think to ourselves “this isn’t like Jim – he usually delivers on his promises. Something must be going on.” Someone without a track record won’t get that same level of benefit.
So, one side of the trust equation is your competency – your skill level, the results you achieve, and your track record over time. If you feel like you aren’t getting the respect you deserve at work, take a good hard look at these areas and see if there is something you can work on.
The second side of the trust equation is character. Whereas competencies are situation, character is constant. Character is made up of integrity, motive, and intent.
Integrity is honestly, congruence, humility, and courage. Are you telling the truth and leaving the right impression. Are you acting in harmony with your values and beliefs? Are you concerned more about what is right than about being right? And, do you have the courage to do what is right even when it is hard?
Having integrity is foundational to building trust. Can you imagine trusting someone who has no integrity? It is table stakes. Without integrity, it’s a non-starter.
Intent is also important when it comes to trust. Intent is your reason for doing something. When your intent is in the right place, but you screw up anyway, people are likely to give you the benefit of the doubt. They won’t penalize you as much for the violation. Its like you just got off with a warning instead of a speeding ticket. Having a positive intent is character building.
Character is also influenced by your agenda. People will determine whether or not they can trust you by whether they feel your agenda is self serving or seeking mutual benefit. How often do you operate with an open agenda versus one where you maybe have an alternative motive? When you catch yourself in alternative motive mode, remind yourself that you are not acting in accordance with building trust.
And finally, character is built on your behavior. Behavior is simply the manifestation of your intent and agenda. People can see when your behavior is not trustworthy. Behaving out of alignment with intent is a sure fire indicator of a hidden agenda.
Every single one of us has a lot to learn. You may be an expert at something, but a complete novice in another area. Or, maybe you have only been out of school for a short time and you are pretty much a novice at everything. So, whatever your situation, you are going to be put into a scenario where you are not the most knowledgeable person on the topic, and you are going to need to rely on the advice or feedback of someone else. When this happens, one of the most important things you can do is accurately assess how much weight you should give to their advice.
Assess How Much Weight to Give Advice
How do you do that? By considering how much experience the person has and what their track record is on the subject. So, someone who has been working in sales for 20 years and has won top sales person over and over is very reliable when it comes to topics related to sales. But, you may not want to take tax advice from them. For tax advice, you will go to someone with a CPA who has 20 years of experience doing tax returns.
It seems pretty obvious when I use those examples, but in day-to-day situations, it isn’t always so clear cut.
If you want to improve your ability to make good decisions, you need to evaluate your decision making process. When you make a decision, who are you relying on? Are you taking into consideration the advice you are being given weighed against the person’s experience and expertise? Not every person is right for advice on every topic. Someone who is super smart in one area can still give you horrible advice in another area.
You must be able to distinguish the person’s believability when it comes to the topic. What most people do is they give equal weight to everyone in the room. Or, they may give weight based on likeability or how long they’ve known someone. But, even in those cases, they are usually doing it unconsciously.
Consider Experience and Track Record
When you are trying to make a decision about something and you are involving others, you must consider their experience and track record when weighing the impact their opinion will have on your decision.
When you are considering someone’s advice, ask yourself:
This 3rd point is really important. A lot of people have opinions they are willing to share, but when you dig into it, you find out it is not based on any personal experience. Many times, it is based on something they’ve heard someone else say. A person’s believability is tied to first-hand experience. If they don’t have 1st hand experience, then they aren’t the right person for you to be getting advice from.
Separating your respect for someone from the fact that they aren’t believable in certain areas is an important skill. In order to do that, you need to ask yourself if they have a good explanation for their advice. If not, you should consider how much weight you give it.
What Role Are You Playing?
The other thing to think about when making a decision based on other people’s advice is the role that you are playing in this specific instance. When considering your relative experience to the other person’s – are you a student, a teacher, or a peer?
If the other person is relatively more experienced than you on the topic, then you are in the role of student and you should be asking questions in order to gain understanding.
If the other person is relatively less experienced than you on the topic, then you are in the role of teaching. You should be explaining the process and experience that led you to your conclusion.
And, if you and the other person are relative peers – have a similar level of experience, then your role is to debate. To balance open-minded exploration of the experiences that led your colleague to his opinions while also being assertive in explaining your own experiences and opinions.
If you have signed up for Scale My Skills, our weekly newsletter, you received a matrix to help you assess your role and the actions you should take when you find yourself in each of the roles.
We all have a portfolio of skills that are used in combination to provide us with our living. Each person listening to this podcast makes their living in a different way, using a different combination of talents, selling them for different rates to different buyers – otherwise known as your employer.
Have you ever thought of your skills as a portfolio? A portfolio is more often associated with investments or creative careers than business careers, but the reality is – we each build our portfolio of skills.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines portfolio as a portable showcase of your talents. I guess in the traditional sense, our portfolio is our resume or CV. The strategy behind a portfolio is that you are typically trying to put it together in a way that maximizes its value. For an investor, they are picking the investments that they feel will give them the best return, but that is also diversified. The difference between an investor’s view of their portfolio and your view of your skills portfolio is likely that they are always thinking of it strategically, and you likely haven’t.
What I want to do today is to help you think of your skills in terms of a portfolio and to become more strategic about how you are thinking about them and deploying them. I’m going to give you a very concrete tool for thinking through your portfolio in a way that helps you decide what skills you should invest time in.
If you are signed up for Scale My Skills, our weekly newsletter, the tool is already in your inbox. Otherwise, if you’d like to get a copy of this tool, you can git it for free by signing up for Scale My Skills.
The tool that we are going to talk about is a matrix. On one axis is the question “what skills do I have or am I growing?” On the 2nd axis is the questions “are my skills well received in the marketplace?”
What skills do I have or am I growing?
For every skill you have, you rank it along a continuum based on your level of expertise. Skills that are your strengths go on the high end of the spectrum, and skills that are not your strengths go on the low end of the spectrum.
How well received are these skills in the marketplace?
The market sets different prices for different skills. Understanding the intersection of your skills and how the marketplace values them can give you great insight into the best way you can maximize your portfolio.
So, along the 2nd axis, you are going to rank the skills you have based on the going market rate. Skills that the market doesn’t value go on the low end of the spectrum and skills that they market highly values go on the high end of the spectrum.
Plot them in the Skills Portfolio Matrix
Ok, now that you’ve assessed your skills and what the market will pay for those skills, you are going to plot them in a matrix.
For those skills that you are not good at and the marketplace doesn’t pay well for – there is no reason for you to put effort into developing the skill. At least, not if your goal is to get paid for it.
For those skills that you are really good at but the marketplace doesn’t value highly, these can become sustaining skills. Think of them as an investor thinks of passive income. You may not put a lot of effort into it because the return is low, but the fact that you receive some benefit still has value to you.
For those skills that are a strength and are valued highly, you should consider making additional or continued investment in order to get the most out of the market’s willingness to pay. You should also make sure you are highlighting this skill on your LinkedIn profile and resume or CV. This is the skill that you want to market for yourself.
The point of the exercise is to help you identify the skills that make sense to invest in. Once you’ve identified them, it is a separate step to determine how they fit into your overall goals and priorities. What the matrix tells you about the skills that fall into the high value/ high expertise quadrant is that the investment in them will pay dividends if you decide to pursue them.
And, for those skills that fall into the quadrant for high market value but low skill, these are the more risky investments. Since you aren’t sure the skills is something that can become a strength, the amount of investment you need to make is higher. And, because you are farther away from the expertise, there is more opportunity for failure. You can get into it and find out you don’t have the aptitude. You can get into it and find out you don’t enjoy it. You can get into it and find out it is nothing like you thought it would be. So, it not only requires a bigger investment, it has a higher probability of failure. But, none of those things mean you shouldn’t do it. The payoff at the end may be big enough to be worth the risk.
Again, the point of the matrix is to help you identify the relative risk / reward and then it is up to you to take the next step.
So, I hope I’ve inspired you to take a look at your skills from a portfolio view. When you look at your skill portfolio in total, you want a good balance of skills that are highly developed and highly valued and skills that, if not so highly valued are not costing you in other ways. As you consider where to invest your time and money, you are thinking about the impact to your overall skills portfolio.
Our objective on People Move Organizations is to make you successful in your career whatever your definition of success looks like. One of the things that will make you stand out from your peers is your ability to improve your customer’s experience with your company. Even if you are in a role where you don’t interact with your customer directly, you should always have customer experience in the back of your mind.
If you’d like to get a basic introduction to the concept of customer experience, check out episode 19.
You may have heard of the problem solving technique of asking Why 5 times. This technique helps you dig deeper into a problem by ensuring that you don’t accept the first answer to a problem. The idea is that if you keep asking why five times, you’ll dig deep enough to really understand the root cause of an issue.
I took that basic concept and adjusted it to address the idea of customer experience. I was looking for a way to help all employees within a company keep customer experience in the back of their mind as they contemplated a change to their process. I originally posted this framework as a blog post on LinkedIn in 2016.
I call the framework the 5 How’s.
There are 5 How Questions that you should always consider if you are going to implement a change to your process. Alternatively, if you have a process that you suspect could be improved, you could use these 5 questions to help you assess if a change is needed.
How is this change going to impact my customer?
Many times, when we think about making a change, we spend time thinking about the impacts to us, or our team, or maybe, even other internal stakeholders. But, have you thought about the impact to your customer? Depending on your role, the impact may be obvious or it may be very indirect and not so obvious. But, either way, you should really spend some time thinking about it. Having a point of view about this, at least ensures you’ve thought about it and eliminates the risk that you just moved ahead without a second thought.
How will this change look from my customer’s standpoint?
Again, you are likely to naturally think about the change from an internal perspective, but be thoughtful about stepping outside your organization and looking at it from the customer’s perspective. Are they likely to see it as an improvement? Will they think it makes you easier to do business with? Will they see it as something you are taking away from them?
Spend some time considering this so that you can determine if you need to take any specific action as part of the change.
How will my customer respond to the change?
If you’ve thought about how the change looks from the customer’s perspective, then you can also take this next step and think about how they might respond. Of course, this can be very tricky because the same exact change can produce different responses from different customers. You may have one customer who is fairly easy-going and just naturally accepts it and another who is high maintenance that throws an all-out temper tantrum. This is where knowing your customer will come in handy because you may be able to assess pretty accurately what the different likely responses will be. But, even if you don’t know you clients well enough to make a specific assessment, you can make some educated guesses.
However, by spending the time to think through the possible responses to the change, you will be able to come up with a plan for how to deal with the different scenarios.
How will my customer find out about the change?
Your answer to the previous questions can help determine how big of a deal this one is. If you’ve determined that, for example, the change is likely to impact your client very little, then how they find out about it is not really that big of a deal. But, if they will see the change as a reduction in service and they are likely to respond very negatively, the way they find out about it becomes a lot more important. So, think about how they will find out about it and make sure it is in alignment with the rest of your assessment.
How will my customer give feedback about the change?
One of the key tenants of good change management is to ensure there is a way for people to provide feedback. A feedback loop is absolutely necessary. A feedback loop doesn’t mean only a way to complain. It also means a way to ask questions or get clarifications. So, make sure you’ve thought about the feedback loop that the customer will have. It may be as simple as providing a contact name or as complex as building out an elaborate website, but what you want to make sure you do is give the right feedback loop for the situation.
Asking How 5 times will ensure you have a solid plan to address the impacts to your customer of a change you are making or are part of.
If you are not in a customer facing role, you should still ask the questions. Better to ask them and determine the answer to all questions is ‘no impact’ than to not ask them at all and find out the hard way that you missed something.
We’ve all been involved with situations where something didn’t happen the way it was supposed to happen because of a lack of clearly defined expectations. A customer gets mad because the repair guy didn’t show up when he said he would. The repair guy is stressed out because the appointment scheduler is scheduling him into appointments with no time for driving from one place to another. The scheduler is trying to meet metrics set by the boss.
Think about your own situation. Is there an area where it seems like everything isn’t lining up? Where the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing? Is someone making decisions or taking action without considering how it impacts others in the process?
Today, we are going to talk about a tool that can be helpful in these situations. Its called the RACI (race-eee) matrix. It is a project management tool that you can adapt to your job.
At its core, the RACI matrix is a responsibility matrix. You simply list tasks down the left side and people or departments across the top to form a matrix. Then, at each intersection of a task and person, you list the role the person plays from a responsibility perspective.
The R in RACI stands for responsible. If the person is responsible for performing the task, then you put an 'R' in the cell. Responsible for the task means they physically do it. They are the boots on the ground, the hands on the keyboard, or the person who actually shows up at the client’s home to make the repair.
The A in the RACI stands for accountable. This is the person who ultimately makes sure the task gets done. They are the ‘buck stops here’ person. They are the person who makes sure something happens – even if they don’t actually perform the task. This is the VP of Customer Support in our repair example.
The C in RACI stands for Consulted. If the person has specialized knowledge or is going to be impacted by the task, they may be consulted as part of the task. This is someone whose input adds value even if they aren’t going to be responsible or accountable for making it happen. In our example, our repair guy may make a call to the product engineering department to get an answer about a product specification in order to be able to properly resolve the issue. The product engineering department has no responsibility for customer repairs. But, they do have specific knowledge that can contribute to the process when the situation calls for it.
The I in RACI stands for Informed. This means the person would know about the task but they don’t have input into it. This is one-way communication whereas C – Consulted - is 2 way communication. The accounting department is informed that the repair has been completed so that they can bill the customer for it. They weren’t responsible for making sure the repair got done, accountable for making sure the repair guy showed up, or consulted in the process of making the repair. But, they need to know it happened so they know to send the bill.
So – RACI. Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed.
Benefits of a RACI
Any process benefits from a RACI because it helps to clearly define the roles played by each person involved in the process. It helps clarify who does what so that everyone is on the same page. It helps you think through a process more thoroughly to ensure that you have fewer unintended consequences to decisions or actions taken within a process.
Having a RACI matrix is a way of forcing you to think about the process and all of its stakeholders. It is a way of planning for different scenarios by proactively identifying who does what for each process.
Because each of us tends to get focused on our own day-to-day job, it is easy to just do what we do and lose track of the stakeholders to the process. The RACI gives you a chance to take a step back and think about the impacts you have on others within the process.
We’ve got 2 episodes that would make a great companion to this one – one about the difference between Systems and Processes, and one about Stakeholders.
Cross Functional Processes
There are very few processes in modern business that are isolated. Almost any process you can think of is cross functional – meaning it involves people from across departments. When you involve people from across departments, you are bringing together people with different objectives, different skills, and different focus to solve a specific task.
Because there are so many variables, having clearly defined roles helps take away one variable.
If I know I’m a C – Consulted – in the process, then I know my role is to give input, but I also know I don’t have to actually deliver anything. I also know that the other people involved know my role is limited to consulting, so there shouldn’t be confusion about who is doing what. When something doesn’t get done the way it should, everyone knows that the right person to go to is the person listed as 'responsible' on the matrix. And, if that person doesn’t get it done then the issue is escalated to the person listed as 'accountable.'
This about one of your processes that could use a RACI and spend some time to put one together. I think you'll find that the process helps identify potential areas of problem in the process and will help you resolve them quickly.
If you are a subscriber to Scale My Skills, our weekly newsletter, you’ve got a RACI matrix in your mailbox. If you aren’t, you can sign up here.
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